Christmas comes late to DR Congo

Kinshasa, DRC - Millions of members of a Democratic Republic of Congo sect have been celebrating Christmas.

Members of the Kimbanguist church believe Jesus Christ was born on 25 May and not 25 December.

Followers, wearing green for hope and white for purity, have spent the day eating, praying and dancing at a centre in the capital, Kinshasa.

The church has around three million believers, mainly concentrated in central Africa.

It was founded in 1921 by Simon Kimbangu, a self-styled healer and prophet, who was educated by Baptist church missionaries in the west of what was then the Congo Free State.

In 1999 the leaders of the Kimbanguist church decided that after several prophetic "revelations", Christmas should be celebrated on 25 May instead of in December.

This was coincidentally the birthday of one of the church leaders, Salomon Kiangani Dialungana.

They urge the rest of the world to follow suit.

'Great atmosphere'

Encouragement to join the all-day ceremony came from a marching band which headed out of the main compound at the conference centre and into the suburbs to literally drum up enthusiasm.

Mama Annie Sita said she had gone to join her fellow Kimbanguists and spend the whole day together at the church dancing, praying and eating.

"There's a lot of joy here and everyone's singing, which makes for a great atmosphere. People have walked from far and wide to come and celebrate," she told the BBC.

Alcohol was not allowed but the crates of soft drinks were stacked high.

Beside them people sold photos of church leaders.

There were also photos of the church's headquarters in the village of Nkamba, which was Simon Kimbangu's home and is now called the New Jerusalem.

Many of those celebrating took their own plastic chairs and large colourful umbrellas to create their own patch of shade.

"We have a revelation - we want everyone to celebrate on 25 May," says Bienvenu Sakuameso, a journalist who works for the church's national television station.

"We don't force, but we only ask them. We say that we have found out this day and we ask them to pray and they too will find out and join us."

So what do Kimbanguists do on 25 December, the traditional date of Christmas.

"For us it's just a normal day," he said.